Are you concerned that your child might be sexting (sending sexually explicit message by text or sharing intimate photographs)? Need to educate yourself some more about this topic? In part one of this blog, I discuss the many aspects which need to be considered in the debate around education and safety when it comes to sexting. Here’s What Every Parent Needs to Know About Sexting – Part 1. (Read Part 2 here)
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Of constant concern for parents, are issues surrounding our young people and sexting.
Increasingly we are seeing children of a much younger age participating in the sharing of sexualized and naked images of themselves or friends. Journalist Javier Expinoza reported in March that in the UK teachers were becoming aware of children as young as 7 sharing sexual messages, pictures and videos.
What Every Parent Needs To Know About Sexting – Part 1
Understanding The Sexting Problem
Adding to the emotion around this topic, which is often seen as taboo by many, and therefore very difficult to discuss openly; are the cases where children (and adults) have been groomed, sexually assaulted, raped, killed or committed suicide through their online interactions. Just a search on the internet will uncover many (perhaps that is also playing into the problem, but that is another issue for another time).
A further complication arises when the sharing of such images is actually by law considered a distribution of child pornography, adding another layer to a very complex issue when the images are shared by children to other children.
Recommended Reading: Posting Images & How To Stay Safe Online
There are many frightening stories going around. Although organisations and government have made efforts to fund programs around cybersafety and sexting, many approach from such a dark space and seek to put fear into our children as a means of protecting them.
Some even call them out and shame them. It’s not working, and we need to consider deeply the effects of such an approach.
So should young children be branded sex offenders or can we find better way? (Note some countries have softened laws where offences are a first offence and both children are under a particular age).
“Irish teens 4th highest in EU..”
During the June 2016 Anti Bullying Research Centre Conference in Ireland this year, it was noted that Irish teens were listed as the 4th highest in the EU for engaging in sexting. 4.4% of boys and 1.6% of girls in the age group 11-16 engaged in sexting.
Most research is focused on the numbers of teens participating, rather than the full demographics.
A study in the USA in 2015 by the Drexel University in Philadelphia showed that over 88% of adults participated in sexting on a regular basis. This raises a strong issue for the “lead by example” of adults.
With advertising increasingly crossing more boundaries and accessible to children, could their beliefs and opinions be shaped by our adult culture of “f#$@ this, we can do anything, no boundaries” which prevails, along with our obsession for a stylized version of beauty, centred around our bodies?
Discussion must take place around the responsibility of adults and media on youth, not just placing the blame on the tool (i.e. the device and the app) and the child.
Whilst it is heartwarming to see boundaries broken down around many issues, shouldn’t we still have to be mindful that young developing minds deserve the chance to develop, before they have adult wishes and desires thrust upon them?
It seems to be highly unbalanced, for whilst we are telling our children to be afraid and careful, are we doing enough to build self respect and self esteem? This can be a much greater tool when it comes to issues of a deeply intimate and personal nature.
Recommended Reading: 7 Useful Tips On How To Build Self-Esteem In Your Child
“We appear to have “normalized” a sexualized version of life.” – Fiona Lucas
The Whole Community Should Be Involved
This is a whole community, in fact a global issue, because every day our children are bombarded with sexualized images and images which paint the concept of the “perfect” body as being the only way to be wanted and desired in the world.
Everybody, even a young child, wants to needed and wanted and desired, the problem is that they don’t want it in a sexual way. This issue is whether they are being given the opportunity to understand the difference.
The confusion between love and lust adds further to complicate young bodies which are rapidly growing,experiencing hormonal changes, and a brain that doesn’t quite catch up fast enough development wise. It is known that in the tweens and teens, the prefrontal cortex is still developing.
What our brains do for us while we are growing, is allow us to rely on the more “primitive” part of the brain, the amygdala. This section of the brain is where our flight or fight response is triggered. Therefore relying on this part for decisions can see the decisions being made via emotion, impulse, instinct and aggression.
Dr Judith Orloff MD, Psychiatrist and Empathy expert, breaks down these differences between Love and Lust. Both create chemical releases in the brain and both can be addictive.
- You’re totally focused on a person’s looks and body.
- You’re interested in having sex, but not in having conversations.
- You’d rather keep the relationship on a fantasy level, not discuss real feelings.
- You want to leave soon after sex rather than cuddling or breakfast the next morning.
- You are lovers, but not friends.
- You want to spend quality time together other than sex.
- Where you get lost in conversations and forget about the hours passing.
- You want to honestly listen to each other’s feelings, make each other happy.
- He or she motivates you to be a better person.
- You want to get to meet his or her family and friends.
When you look at these you can see a couple of issues.
“Living in a Lustful world..”
Firstly that it highlights that we are living in a very Lustful world (fashions, culture) and secondly, the problems that arise when one person is in Lust and the other in Love. When our children are younger, they find it much harder to distinguish which they are feeling.
From movies, music to fashion and often, to what is happening at home, we have not really considered what is needed for children to be able to grow up feeling secure and comfortable in their own skins.
This is not to say we need to get prudish about anything. Of course we should be free to dress as we want, but often fashion is dictated by adults. We create the mini me’s, it’s our egos wanting our little girl to look like a mini Kardashian… we are buying the clothes! A 5 year old probably shouldn’t even know what a Kardashian is! If we want them to have the freedoms, we need to be teaching the right attitudes that go with those freedoms.
Childhood is only a fraction of our lives, and children have every right to expect to be protected by the adults in their world.
Recommended Reading: 20 Important Things You Should Tell Your Teenager
What Are the Risks?
- Sexting can encourage risky behavior, so moving from suggestive words, to direct comments and then sharing images, or doing things which could potentially cause harm.
- Bullying seems too often to stem from misappropriated images which have been shared. These can cause untold misery.
- Reality and fantasy don’t always add up. Further damage to self-esteem may occur when the online life and the reality are very different.
- It can get out of hand very quickly, particularly where emotions are concerned (love, anxiety, jealousy etc).
- Being pushed or feeling peer pressure to participate.
- There’s potential to perpetrate sexual abuse on another through pressure.
- Potential in the future to have many damaged children seek legal retribution when they become old enough to analyse their situation, particularly if they have been coerced into sexting.
- Criminal element around sharing of child pornography. We don’t want our future bright young things behind bars because they were not educated early enough on respect for others and self.
- What you share privately can end up in the wrong hands and shared publicly.
- Data can be hacked.
- Risk of Catfishing: people pretending to be someone they are not.
- Potential for Violent outbursts due to jealousy if texts are found by a partner
- Some sexual dysfunction in young people has been noted where there is an overload of sexualized content in their lives.
On a less serious note, too long texting can reduce your phone battery too!
We can see there are many inherent risks when in comes to sexting, and it is not just our children who need to be aware.
Recommended Reading: Keep Kids Safe Online: 11 Apps & Sites To Be Aware Of
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